Published in the June 2023 issue of Marsh Hawk Press Review — some of my speculations on what has been happening in our open, open-ended online course on poetry in the past decade. I attempt to describe an emergent learner-centered learning that is motivated by certain kinds of poems and situates itself in a third space.
Today I distributed the following announcement widely to 130,000 participants in "ModPo," the free, open-enrollment, noncredit 10-week course in modern and contemporary U.S. poetry:
I am very excited to announce a new aspect of ModPo that I hope will intrigue you and perhaps induce you to participate. We have created a new section of ModPo that parallels the main ModPo syllabus, "chapter" by "chapter" and week by week, and offers links to short video recordings of ModPo people around the world gathered in small groups conducting collaborative close readings of our poems — and related poems — themselves. Yes: we are now calling for crowdsourced collaborative close readings.
In a paper by Raymond Maxwell titled "Constructivism, Accountable Talk, Conversation Theory, and Information Literacy Instruction," there is a passage — in the conclusion — mentioning ModPo:
Last year I took a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, also called ModPo. There were over 40,000 students in the course. It was hosted by University of Pennsylvania, and live webcasts were broadcasted once a week, to which all participants were invited. The professor used a team-teaching approach, and several videos each week featured close reads of poems with the professor at a table conversing with six teaching assistants. The conversation was led by various team members at various times. Each lecture was a conversation between the seven of them, piped out to over 40,000 students around the world. The course was a grand success. We learned the material, and a large percentage actually got certificates of completion. In Washington, a dozen or so of us formed a weekly study group that met on Sundays at Politics and Prose Bookstore. This year the course is being taught with the addition of some twenty community teaching assistants, embedded throughout the population of online students. Perhaps such a model of conversation- and team-led instruction might be conceivable for information literacy instruction on a smaller level.
Don’t you love the look of web pages circa 1995? I made this page, as I made all my thousands of pages from the moment Mosaic showed me the possibilities of the graphical web browser; before that, I was much enamored of the Gopher, and built an elaborate Gopher for my poetry course (English 88) and for Penn's English department, where I happened to be in the middle of a long stint as undergraduate chairperson.
Once graphical interfaces with the world wide web were semi-stable, I moved English 88 into html files (coding them myself, of course). Next year, English 88 on the web will be 20 years old but I'll feel 10 years younger than I felt just before I first realized I could share this course with anyone, anywhere, without charge.
By 1995, thanks to the late Jack Abercrombie and Susan Garfinkel, students in English 88 (virtual members and of course students enrolled in the class at Penn) could meet in PennMOO, a non-graphical/text-only synchronous chat space where, with a little training, people would “do” things, “build” things, and make projects happen. I saw a natural opportunity here for a virtual poetry slam. We built a skating rink, and almost always did a few rounds of skating before groups of us entered various chat spaces to have separate conversations about the various poems we were studying. I built an office next to the skating rink for myself, and held virtual office hours — for anyone in the world — from 11 PM until midnight on Sunday nights each week.